Raben (Terracotta Smoke, 2011) ponders motherhood and beginnings in a collection rich with Christian imagery and alliteration.
Though unpunctuated, most of the free verse poems of Raben’s second collection are written in complete sentences, as demarcated by capitalization. One notable exception is “Transcending”—all one run-on sentence built around three “When I” statements, with no concluding verb. Instead, the stanzas are alternative definitions of the title. The following poem, “When I Sleep,” echoes the conditional phrasing and dreamy tone. Spiritual language infuses many of the entries, especially in the first two sections. The Virgin Mary has a recurring symbolic presence; e.g., “I was completely pure / and the shower was just a symbol / for my Madonna-like purity.” “Mother Mountain” blends creation imagery with an allusion to the Sacred Heart to suggest a feminine deity: “Her heart beats out a message for me / She has created me / out of her molten blood.” Confirmation of this mother/creator’s identity comes in “Peace to All Mothers,” which insists, oxymoronically, “She has not given birth.” Throughout, Mary functions as an emblem of both innocence and sacred maternity. Meanwhile, “He Was Waiting” imagines Jesus’ thoughts on the cross. Raben also compares saints past and present in the lines “Mother Teresa / Mary Magdalene / In between a sinner and celestial angel.” The poems in the “Something Out of Nothing” section (perhaps referencing the doctrine of creation ex nihilo) dwell on mornings—specifically, breakfast. This works well in “Creation,” where a hard-boiled egg stands in for a newly revealed world; the narrator tells us, “A little pressure and the shell slips / A perfect white oval.” However, other breakfast-themed poems, especially the comic but literal “A Lonely Pancake,” seem trivial. The collection’s middle sections, their poems composed of vague vignettes, feel less essential. Yet they are more memorable sonically, with striking, short phrases and successful alliteration like “Women / with window shades / and wings” and “Crawling out of a coffin…Cheering clusters of crowds.”
Sound and subject serve to unite most of these spiritually resonant poems.